If you haven’t heard of greenwashing, you likely have encountered it without realizing it. Over the years I’ve found myself becoming more attuned to the idea of greenwashing. I’ve questioned the green marketing and products I’ve seen and asked myself how eco-friendly those items actually are. A recent example is a “green” line within a fast fashion brand. If this company is producing clothing with the intention for it to only last a season, how can one line within their company truly be green!?
Here I’ve shared information about the types of greenwashing, how to detect it and what you can do about it:
With environmental concerns on the rise among consumers, some companies are legitimately reevaluating how their own business practices intersect with the environment; while others are capitalizing on the rising concern of sustainability through greenwashing.
Asking yourself questions of “is it green?”, “is this actually sustainable?” is not out there, it’s for good reason. Greenwashing is when companies or organizations with unsubstantiated claims tout their business, business practices or products as being environmentally friendly. This practice used by businesses and organizations is unethical and sadly happens frequently.
It can be overwhelming as a consumer to understand whether a business is actually sustainable or whether they’re just making green claims, AKA greenwashing, as a marketing ploy. I get it, I can’t tell you how often I’ve felt frustrated by false claims and navigating brands, products and companies as a consumer.
To no surprise I’m sure, there’s many different types of greenwashing. It’s unfortunate, but it’s our current reality while there aren’t many laws and regulations that protect us from greenwashing.
You may have seen plastic-looking packaging that is made from plant materials that is listed as compostable. It sounds great, and it may be partially good, but the problem with this type of single-use packaging is that it is only compostable in industrial facilities. You could not take it and place it in the garden in your background as it wouldn’t decompose. Sadly in most states there are not a plethora of the types of facilities that will accept these items as well. It makes you question just how green these materials are if they ultimately end up in a landfill and take a long time to decompose.
Including images of nature such as trees, the ocean, the sky, animals, plants, etc. and using natural colors such as green, blue, brown in packaging and marketing materials do not necessarily mean a product or brand is sustainable. It can be intentionally misleading.
When a brand is touting a sustainable or eco-friendly product line or product but not all of the items they sell are sustainable are using the green movement for their own benefit and gain. Fast-fashion brand, H&M, with their “Conscious Collection” tout their “sustainable” line, yet their general business practices are not inline with sustainable and ethical production. It’s clear that they’re using that line as a marketing tactic.
This frustratingly enough can come in many forms: claims on a website, labels on packaging, in brand values, using buzz words such as “natural”, “green”, “clean” or “eco” and more. When you see a claim but there is no evidence to back it, it likely is greenwashing. Companies with legitimate sustainable businesses have nothing to hide and are willing to back their claims with certifications and exposure to their production facilities, etc.
Guidelines by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are very loose in regards to environmental claims. The FTC’s guidelines for sustainable claims were updated as recently as 2012, AKA not that recent. Keyword here also is guidelines, there are no laws that hold brands accountable.
So how exactly do you know what to look for? To be honest, it’s complicated for consumers.
The general rule of thumb to look for: is there anything to substantiate the claim or labeling? If there’s no certification or legitimate facts or information to back up the claim or label, it is likely an example of greenwashing.
You’re probably wondering what key indicators and certifications there are? There’s many and in all honesty, I myself am still learning. There are some certifications like Fair Trade and Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) among others.
Let’s take the GOTS certification as an example. If a textile is GOTS certified, you can trust that it is made from organic fibers. The organization has teams of people that certify that the textiles meet the standards they have set. They have people from their organization actually travel around to verify that these standards are in place.
There are all sorts of certifications that I intend to do more research to uncover and will continue to share as I learn!
Reputable certifications are an excellent way to verify that products and companies are legitimately sustainable.
Yes, this is all very frustrating! I hear you and I’m right there with you. So what can be done about greenwashing?
In a perfect world (hopefully in the near future) we won’t need to navigate greenwashing and that there will be more protection for consumers. My hope is that this information leaves you feeling empowered with a better understanding of greenwashing and what you can do to combat it!
Have you heard of greenwashing? What are some of the worst examples of it that you’ve seen?